Television: The super-cynical machinations of 'Veep'
Julia Louis-Dreyfus wants you to know that her character in the new HBO series "Veep" isn't based on any politician, living or dead. "No, it is not," insisted Louis-Dreyus, who stars as Vice President Selina Meyer.
"Nope," agreed Armando Iannucci, the creator/writer/executive producer of "Veep." "We were very firm about that. We weren't looking to do a take on Sarah Palin, of beloved memory, or Hillary Clinton, or anybody like that."
Other than the fact that Palin and Meyer are both women, there really aren't any similarities. The humor in "Veep" isn't derived from questions about Selina's competence, it comes from the fact that she's transitioned from being a congresswoman, senator and presidential candidate to the no-man's land of the vice presidency.
As a matter of fact, nowhere in the premiere (Sunday, 11 p.m., HBO) does the fact that the "Veep" is a woman play into the narrative.
"I thought female vice president simply because I didn't want people to say, 'Oh, it's a take on [Dick] Cheney' or 'This is Joe Biden,' " Iannucci said. "I didn't want it to be about her being a woman.
"Now, having said that, being a woman in politics is very different," he continued. "The press constantly speculates on what you're wearing, how much your hair and makeup costs and all that, which I think female politicians find irksome. We don't know what party Selina belongs to. We don't know who the president is. We never name the president because it's not about the minutiae of policy. It's all about how human beings operate in that kind of world."
The show focuses on how the vice president and her staff operate in a world where she's frustrated by her lack of power.
"Veep" is, perhaps, the most cynical show on TV. It plays as the flip-side of "The West Wing," where no one is noble, all the characters are obsessed with appearances and nothing of substance happens.
"Watching the political process at the moment, your instinct now is to laugh because the alternative is to cry," Iannucci said. "I think a lot of people are genuinely frustrated because they don't understand why so many clearly able people concentrated in one locale can't sort something out."
In the first episode, the vice president is caught in a seriously ridiculous political kerfuffle. In the second, when a worthwhile initiative appears to be getting off the ground, Selina exclaims, "That is so great for me!"
"And the country?" asks an aide.
"Yeah, that's what I meant," Selina replies.
Iannucci said he wanted to strike a balance between portraying D.C. as "very noble" and portraying it as "a very cynical, corrupt, rather sinister world. I actually believe the truth is somewhere in between."
Well, the show settles in decidedly closer to the cynical side.
Maybe "Veep" captures truth, but it doesn't capture much humor. It's supposed to be a comedy, but there aren't a lot of laughs. It's mostly about watching awful, ambitious, venal people drop 27 f-bombs in the first 30-minute episode and worrying about 99 percent style and 1 percent substance, similar to a less amusing version of "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
The funniest moment in the first three episodes comes when Selina is told the president is suffering chest pains and a sly smile creeps across her face.
That plays as mildly amusing and really mean-spirited. That's "Veep" in a nutshell.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as the vice president of the United States in the HBO comedy "Veep," which debuts Sunday at 11 p.m. on HBO.